Invisible Nature

John Surman, Jack DeJohnette

CD18,90 out of print

The first duo album by John Surman and Jack DeJohnette in more than 20 years – since 1981’s "Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon" – is an exultant, highly atmospheric disc recorded live at the jazz festivals of Berlin and Tampere. Surman and DeJohnette play totally improvised music that sounds pre-composed. Of the pieces on "Invisible Nature", only one has a prearranged harmonic structure: the rest of the music is simply pulled out of the ether, and takes many forms. From the long almost ambient introductory "Mysterium" to the free blues of "Outback Spirits" to the Indian colours of "Ganges Groove", this is improvisation of great variety. Long-time followers of Surman will be glad to hear him wailing joyously once more, over DeJohnette’s propulsive drums. With additional use of electronics, the duo often sound like a larger band. DeJohnette’s electronic percussion allows him to add a bass line from time to time, or to simulate sounds of congas, tabla and tympani. Surman’s synthesizers, meanwhile, add spaciousness and depth to the instrumental texture.

Featured Artists Recorded

November 2000

  • 1Mysterium
    (Jack DeJohnette, John Surman)
  • 2Rising Tide
    (Jack DeJohnette, John Surman)
  • 3Outback Spirits
    (Jack DeJohnette, John Surman)
  • 4Underground Movement
    (Jack DeJohnette, John Surman)
  • 5Ganges Groove
    (Jack DeJohnette, John Surman)
  • 6Fair Trade
    (Jack DeJohnette, John Surman)
  • 7Song For World Forgiveness
    (Jack DeJohnette)
Stereo, CD des Monats
It has taken 22 years for the followup to the Surman/DeJohnette duo's remarkable Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon, and this live album recorded at the Berlin Jazz Festival and the Tampere Jazz Happening in 2000 is an equally important release. Today it seems the flimsiest sketch by a big name appears to be valued more than a choice canvas by a minor master, so an album like this is likely to pass by the opinion-shapers of majority culture. Fortunately this has never been an impediment to creating outstanding jazz like this.
Stuart Nicholson, BBC Music Magazine
As the term "electronic music" becomes as vague and commomplace as "desktop publishing", so the need becomes greater for one thing that is impossible to engineer: a good ear. And that's what distinguishes Invisible Nature, by John Surman and Jack DeJohnette, who have a knack for using electronics within largely improvised live performances. DeJohnette's kit sounds fantastic, whether acoustic or electronically triggered. He has a distinctive sureness of touch and timbre that you can hear on many significant jazz albums by Davis, Jarrett and Hancock. Surman ... has a practical approach to the electronics he has used for two decades or more: he sets up simple, slightly unpredictable synth patterns or drones that are transparent enough for him to play against on baritone or soprano saxophone - and occasionally on MIDI wind controller, a direct descendant of the lyricon. What ignites this collaboration is the two musicians' collective "ear", their feel for what makes an improvisation happen, their instinct for a phrase, a note, a sound. From the echoplexed atmospheres of Mysterium to the dirty groove of Underground Movement, it all works brilliantly.
John L Walter, The Guardian
Bereits vor 20 Jahren nahm der britische Bläser und Synthesizerspieler Surman mit dem Trommler und Pianisten aus Chicago ein Duoalbum auf (The Amazing Adventures Of Simon Simon). Wie man es von den beiden Eklektikern schätzt, produzieren sie auch auf dem in Berlin und Tampere entstandenen neuen Album ein Amalgam aus verschiedensten Zutaten - von der Folklore über freie Passagen bis hin zur Minimalmusik. Da schichten sich Melodien hintereinander, die mal aggressiv, mal zärtlich, aber immer präsent und klangschön sind. Innerhalb ihrer metrischen Gefüge schaffen Surman/DeJohnette Transparenz durch fragil-lebhafte Abstufungen. Feinfühlig, voller klanglicher Köstlichkeiten, Akribie und Explosivität.
Olaf Maikopf, Jazzthing
Wie ein Archivar des Phantastischen schichtet Surman über ein marionettenhaft-tänzerisches Schlagzeug-Motiv Improvisationsbilder von großer gestischer Kraft, wobei sparsam dosierte Synthesizer-Einsätze den Melodien noch stärkere Kontraste verleihen. In "Rising Tide" und "Fair Trade" gelingt Surman mühelos der Nachweis, dass er immer noch zu den wenigen Künstlern zählt, die Ungewöhnliches auf dem Baritonsaxophon zu erzählen haben. Die federnden Beats, mit denen Jack DeJohnette "Underground Movements" unterlegt und damit den Saxophonisten in die schwindelnden Höhen seiner Chorusse katapultiert, werden von einem natürlichen rhythmischen Puls bestimmt. Die Konzeption seines Schlagzeugspiels besteht darin, fast unmerklich gestalterische Elemente einzubringen. Die Eleganz seiner Einsätze besteht aus fließenden Bewegungen, aus denen sich diverse Muster formieren. ... Auf Invisible Nature betreiben die beiden Künstler keine rückwärtsgewandte Werkschau, sondern benutzen die Gelegenheit, um mit musikalischen Pretiosen aufzukreuzen.
Gerd Filtgen, Fono Forum
Die Beziehung des Duos reicht bis in die ferne Vergangenheit und brach sich auf Tonträger erstmals 1981 Bahn, nämlich auf der zu Recht legendären Platte The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon. Das tiefe Verständnis, das aus dieser langen Beziehung resultiert, hört man Invisible Nature glücklicherweise auch an. Man meint förmlich zu spüren, wie der eine ahnt, was der andere als Nächstes tun könnte, um ihn dabei treffend zu unterstützen oder konterkarieren zu können. Dabei hat es natürlich keiner der beiden noch nötig, seine Virtuosität auf irgendeine Art demonstrativ in den Vordergrund zu stellen - beide spielen sich die Bälle zu und greifen auch in die Trickkiste: auf dem "Ganges Groove" spielt Jack DeJohnette die elektronischen drums beispielsweise mit der Hand. Das Ergebnis ist ein Sound, der der Tabla ähnlich ist, während Surman mit dem MIDI wind controller seinem Instrument indische Würze verleiht. Kurz: Invisible Nature ist die Kunst der Improvisation, Abteilung Hohe Schule.
Rolf Thomas, Jazzthetik
Recorded live at the Berlin Jazz Festival and the Tampere Jazz Happening in November 2000, "Invisible Nature" is the overdue follow-up to "The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon", the 1981 debut by the John Surman/JackDeJohnette duo. The musical relationship between the two men goes back still further, however. In 1968, when DeJohnette was in London with the Bill Evans Trio at Ronnie Scott's Club, he took time out to improvise with local musicians. John Surman: "Jack instigated a jam session series in the afternoons, and the word got out. So I was there, along with John McLaughlin, Dave Holland and Tony Oxley."

Surman and DeJohnette found an immediate affinity and have been in close contact ever since. Jack and John also had a mutual friend in drummer Stu Martin, and in '74 Surman moved to Woodstock in New York State for six months, to be close to both of them. It was a period of pooling ideas and energies. Surman played briefly with DeJohnette's Directions band, which was also where he met and befriended guitarist John Abercrombie, another important contact for the future. Jack and John's first recording together for ECM took place in 1978, on guitarist Mick Goodrick's "In Pas(s)ing" album, and the first duo gig as such was at a drum clinic in Milan, shortly before the "Simon Simon" session. "An amazingly intense experience", Surman remembers, "I walked away reeling from it - and was keen to repeat it as soon as possible!"

Through the 80s and 90s, the Surman/DeJohnette duo was intermittently operational, a format joyfully returned to when crowded schedules allowed. In 1990, John and Jack premiered new music with the Balanescu Quartet and a decade later wrote also for the London Brass ensemble. Their collaboration with London Brass was recorded in 2001 and is scheduled for future ECM release. Meanwhile, the duo: a remarkably big sounding small group, committed to free improvising and spontaneous composition. Their pleasure in this shared freedom is palpable, both men are given to exultant and tumultuous playing, but there are also tender and carefully considered moments.

"Mysterium" from Finland's Tampere festival, immediately sketches some of the possibilities.DeJohnette plays bass patterns on an electronic drum, syncopated in real time with his subtle kit sounds while Surman simultaneously supplies a drone on keyboard synthesizer and floats his yearning reed cries through a digital delay unit. The group sound here is vast, cavernous.

The duo uses electronics to shape the acoustical spaces in which the music unfolds. "Ganges Groove", for instance, is an intimate piece suggestive of an Indian recital room: played with hands, DeJohnette's electronic drum takes on tabla sonorities, while Surman's MIDI wind controller sounds like the bansuri flute's high tech cousin.

DeJohnette's ingenuity on the electronic drum also brings the colours of congas and pedal-tympani into the music on "Fair Trade" and "Outback Spirits" respectively. The drummer's sensitivity to sound colour is as evident here as it is in his extraordinary kit playing.

Recent Surman recordings on ECM have emphasized his growing confidence as a composer: the Mercury Prize nominated oratorio "Proverbs and Songs", the music for reeds, string quartet and double-bass on "Coruscating". We have also seen Surman integrate his improvisational skills in the quasi-classical context of John Dowland songs with ex-Hilliard Ensemble singer John Potter on "In Darkness Let Me Dwell". "Invisible Nature", however, has a closer relationship to the kind of music John Surman made when he first burst upon the scene as a galvanic player of prodigious gifts. His unfettered, freely expressive soloing from Berlin and Tampere will speak to those who recall, for instance, the Surman/Barre Phillips/Stu Martin Trio. John Surman has long been one of the most resourceful musicians in jazz, as well as one of its most lyrical soloists. But sparks fly and something special happens when he is challenged by strong rhythm.

Jack DeJohnette is particularly happy that current playing opportunities - with both the "Standards Trio", with Keith Jarrett and Gary Peacock, and in the duo with Surman - are putting emphasis on free collective playing once more. The drummer of course has worked the entire tradition of jazz, and played with everyone from Thelonious Monk to Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, but he made some of his earliest artistic statements as a member of the Chicago avant-garde, with Muhal Richard Abrams' Experimental Band and other units at the birth of the AACM. He also played with Coltrane in the transitional period between the groups with Elvin Jones and Rashied Ali, and the concept of creating "in the moment" remains important to him. And, as he points out, while there are many musicians who engage in group improvisation today, there are few who can create spontaneous song forms as Surman can, his melodic instincts functioning amid even the most heated improvisational exchanges ...
2024 April 17 G-Livelab Helsinki, Finland
2024 April 18 G-Livelab Tampere, Finland
2024 May 07 MaiJazz Stavanger, Norway